‘X’-cellent opening o’seas for sequel

Foreign bow second only to 'Two Towers' all-time

Mutant mania gripped the world over the weekend as “X2: X Men United” amassed an estimated $69.3 million from 7,600 prints in an unprecedented 93 territories.

If the estimate holds, it will rank as the second-highest opening weekend of all time overseas, beating “Star Wars: Episode II — Attack of the Clones,” which minted $69.1 million from 5,854 screens in 72 markets in May 2002.

It trails “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers,” which generated $87.9 million in just 27 territories last December. Comparisons are complicated by the fact that “Rings” launched in many markets on a Wednesday, while “X-2’s” bows stretched from Wednesday in France, Australia, Mexico and parts of Asia, through to Saturday in Japan, and it had paid previews in quite a few countries.

Opened much better than original

Generally, the sequel opened 50%-60% bigger than the original, a delighted Fox Intl. theatrical prez Scott Neeson said Sunday.

The sci-fier collared an estimated $10.8 million on 447 locations in the U.K., $7.88 million on 701 in France, $7.3 million on 897 in Germany, $5.7 million on 380 in Spain and $5.4 million on 750 in Mexico (a Fox opening record and the industry’s third largest).

Similarly impressive were Australia’s $4.4 million on 358, Brazil’s $2.3 million on 404 (a Fox record and the market’s second best debut ever behind “Spider-Man”) and South Korea’s $2.5 million on 177 (the distrib’s third biggest).

Ditto Belgium’s $790,000 on 85, Holland’s $770,000 on 98 (Fox’s third highest entry), Colombia’s $475,000 on 75 and Venezuela’s $370,000 on 65 (an industry high).

Slightly less stellar were Japan’s estimated $3.2 million on 440 (20% up on “X-Men,” on par with the entry of “Die Another Day”) and Italy’s $2.7 million on 300 in a country that traditionally doesn’t embrace sci-fiers.

Despite the SARS crisis in Southeast Asia, the Hugh Jackman/Halle Berry/Patrick Stewart starrer nabbed a superb $1.1 million on 250 in Thailand, $1.07 million on 50 in Singapore, $812,000 on 56 in Hong Kong and $596,000 on 87 in Malaysia.

SARS mars Taiwan opening

The health scares did impact its opening in Taiwan, resulting in a relatively soft $670,000 on 130.

The first “X Men” grossed $137 million abroad and the studio anticipates the sequel, which cost a reported $140 million, will easily exceed that.

“There was a degree of risk in releasing a film simultaneously in 93 markets because you roll the dice in a single weekend,” Neeson said.

“There would have been no opportunity to change the (foreign) campaign or release dates. But with ‘X2’ we knew we had a film with a universal flavor.”

One imperative for Fox was to unleash the pic before the invasion of “The Matrix Reloaded” in two weeks. However, Neeson does not expect “X2” to fall in a heap when “Matrix” arrives, reasoning, “The markets will expand to cope with two films. We saw that last Christmas when the ‘Harry Potter’ and ‘Lord of the Rings’ (sequels) and ‘Die Another Day’ were all in release.”

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